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As a child, being surrounded by powerful Black and Brown women, hearing their stories of sisterhood, I found my vision and my voice. I knew then, listening to the stories of Black writers, that I wanted to be a writer. Beyond the beauty of the stories themselves, I was drawn to the power of these women’s poetry. I still am. Yolanda Wisher and Trapeta B. Mayson are drawn to the power of Black women’s poetry, too, both their own and others.
What’s the ConsenSIS?
Wisher and Mayson met 25 years ago at a poetry reading at the Black-owned art gallery Panoramic Poetry and, over the years, they have, as Yolanda recalled, “become more and more close and connected as poets, as sisters, and as friends.” But 25 years ago, Wisher and Mayson never would have suspected that they would become the co-creators of ConsenSIS, a broad and bold initiative that invites Black women and femme poets in the Philadelphia area to define the history and scope of their community. Through a multidisciplinary, multi-event undertaking, and funded by a grant from Monument Lab, ConsenSIS has created a series of experiences featuring Black women and femme writers, for Black women and femme writers.
Mayson said, “We’re focusing on Black women and Black femme poets and how they have been under-acknowledged and disregarded. So, we are reimagining this idea of monuments and really thinking about what is the best way to memorialize Black women and femme poets?” And, as part of thinking about the needs of the community, they sought consensus. Wisher and Mayson and their creative team surveyed close to 100 Black women and femme poets in the Philadelphia area to get a sense of their needs and, based on the results of that survey, they curated a series of events that will culminate in an evocative sensory experience on Saturday, October 8, at the Johnson House in Germantown.
Artist and composer Kendrah Butler-Waters has created an original soundscape that will be unveiled at an intimate gathering for Black women and femme poets on October 8. When describing what attendees should expect, Wisher told me, “It will be a listening party, and a listening experience, but it’s going to be active listening. So, we’re going to invite people to move with the score. We’re going to invite people to vocalize with the score. There’s things built into the piece that invite call-and-response, and we’re also going to ask people to write in response to the score. ‘Cause that’s what we do. There’s going to be multiple ways that we will be listening. But, hopefully, it’ll be very deep, in all of those different ways.”
How could the event not be deep? The unveiling will take place at the Johnson House, a representative station on the Underground Railroad, on the 29th anniversary of the day Toni Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and will feature the work of the world-renowned composer and creator Butler-Waters with a menu curated by Our Mothers’ Kitchens.
“We wanted to create something as writers ourselves that we feel is really missing in this legacy of Black women and femme writers,” Trapeta said as she described how the space will be limited to 50 participants and how those in attendance are invited to wear orange as a color of celebration. “There’s an excitement in the air,” she said, and then added with a smile, “And, besides, we like color.”
For those that cannot make the event live, or do not identify as a Black woman or femme poet or writer, be sure to check out the ConsenSIS website after October 8 to find out how you can experience the sound monument and all that it evokes. Register for the event online.
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